Category Archives: tears

hope and tragedy

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
~ Emily D.
—–
Watching the news this morning, watching what’s happening in Iran with bated breath, keeping apace with blogs and youTube… and praying. Seeing beauty and tragedy, tears in my eyes… a couple of things that moved me to pray, to hope, to look forward, and wish I could do more…
It is beautiful to see those who have been afraid stop being afraid.
It is beautiful to see people united, crying out for justice and a voice.
It is beautiful seeing a people crying out to God.
It is beautiful to see people stand up and say “enough!”
It brings tears to my eyes watching people confront the possibility of death, and continue to walk forward.
I am afraid for them, saddened by the violence and repression – yet full of hope as well.
The following is a translation via NIAC of an Iranian blogger:
“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”
Such strength, beauty, courage, and humility…
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Filed under beauty, courage, daily life, faith, food for thought, hope, inspiring, iran, tears

Lament

I don’t really know how to go about saying this. Do I start in the now, and work backwards? Begin at the beginning (which, I’m told, is a very good place to start) and work towards the present? And you also have to remember that I’m woefully under-qualified to talk about many things. But have I ever let that stop me before?

This has been building in me for the past year and a half – but I don’t think that I even glimpsed the root of my unsettled feeling that something was not right until recently.

God, let your justice roll…

As most (all?) of you know, a year and a half ago I moved into one of the favelas (impoverished slum communities) of Rio de Janeiro called Manguinhos. Life moved from the ordinary and mundane to the surreal and extraordinary. I was exposed to new levels of poverty, violence, fear, and despair. There were pockets of joy, hope, and grace, but the darkness shrouded the light like never before.

God, let your justice roll…

The day-to-day reality of the lives of my friends on the street began to sink in. At times I battled with hopelessness and depression. I couldn’t see hope, and I couldn’t offer what I didn’t have. The funerals started – drug overdoses, robberies that went bad, murders, ambushes. Friends left town, moved home, moved on. The brightest lights and my closest friends were buried, disappeared, lost touch with.

God, let your justice roll…

I would hear from friends working from the other broken places of the world – the brothels of Calcutta, the amputee camps of Sierra Leonne, the earthquake victims of Pakistan, the tsunami survivors from Sri Lanka, those afflicted with AIDS in Mozambique and South Africa, the refugee camps in Darfur.

God, let your justice roll…

My heart was leaden and full of questions – Where was God? How to reconcile the brokenness of our world with the promises of Scripture? How to worship a God who calls himself “good” in the midst of so much pain and suffering? The songs I knew to sing, the prayers I knew to pray, didn’t seem to fit on the streets. What are the songs the women can sing as the bombs fall around, and the bullets fly by? What songs can be sung by those who are hungry and cold and afraid? What do those who are in slavery and bondage cry out that is not trite and meaningless? What words can give them hope?

God, let your justice roll…

There didn’t seem to be any answers – as I traveled around the US and went from church to church, I couldn’t find answers. Songs of joy and peace, of God’s goodness and protection and blessing, didn’t seem to ring true.

God, let your justice roll…

I guess what I’m trying to say is, what do you do when your songs and prayers don’t seem to match up w/ the world outside? Where are the songs and prayers of mourning and lament that figure into the Psalms so much – and where do I go to get perspective?

God, let your justice roll…

Maybe I should just write my own…

God, let your justice roll…

Maybe I should use my voice to cry out for those who have no voice…

God, let your justice roll…

Maybe I should simply be silent, and let those who truly have cause to lament do so – simply add my silence, my tears, and my presence to their cries for justice, for peace, for healing…

God, let your justice roll…

I don’t know. I know this is woefully incomplete and generic. I don’t have any answers. I don’t even know if this makes sense to anyone outside my silly little head. But I do know we need to be asking these questions. Let’s ask them together. Please?

Oh God, let your justice roll…

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Jeferson Revisited

I want to tell you all a story. Like all true stories, it is beautiful, and funny, and sad, and a melange of emotions that I really don’t understand yet. Let me begin at the beginning.

About two years ago, I met a young man named Jeferson. He had just turned 14, was a few weeks older than my little brother Jonathan, and was living on the streets of Rio. Lapa was his home. I and the Servant Team were invited to go with Jeferson and a woman named Carla, a volunteer with another organization that we had seen down in Lapa a few times. She had planned an outing with Jeferson for the day to the Naval Museum, which included a free boat ride in the bay. So we went to spend the day with them.

It was a cold, grey, rainy morning. Mist fluttered around the lampposts of Praça XV, and coated everything in a shiny, glistening film. We grabbed a quick breakfast at a café, and then ran to the museum. A few images stand out from that day – Jeferson, Zach (ST member) and I running through the submarine, taking pictures of ourselves with all the mannequin crew members, looking through the periscope, and trying to scare the girls by popping out of apparently inaccessible places. Then came the boat ride – cold, wet, and exhilarating as the sea breeze whipped around and over and through us. Again, running and taking pictures and laughing. I knew I had made a friend.

After that, Jeferson slowly became a part of my life. Seeing his playful grin, and hearing him laugh as he yelled across the square “Ben-edita da Silva!” (a famous woman from Rio, and my nickname to him) were signs that it was going to be a good day. I remember one day when he was over at my apartment. We were playing a soccer type game that involved standing on opposite ends of the hallway and kicking a beach ball at each other as hard as we could. The object was to get the beach ball past the other person and through the doorway behind them. If you did, you scored a point. I don’t remember who won. I do remember playing for 45 minutes before one of us kicked the ball a bit too hard. It hit the ceiling, knocked off the glass light fixture, and sent it plummeting to the floor where it exploded into 8,592 pieces. We both sheepishly cleaned it up, and stopped the game.

I remember sitting with him this last Mother’s Day. I was asking some of the boys questions about their mothers – things they liked about them, things they missed, fun memories, etc. We laughed and got sad, and then a few asked my about my mother. So I told them. They wanted to know how she died, and how I felt about it all. Jeferson didn’t say much. He just sat quietly next to me. I answered their questions as best as I could, and was touched when one of the boys sympathetically patted Jeferson and me on the shoulder and said in a soft voice, “It’s hard to lose a mom…” With those words, and the compassionate touch, Jeferson began to cry. So we sat on a moldy, smelly, falling apart couch with our arms around each others shoulders, and cried, and laughed, and remembered.

I remember eating spaghetti and pizza with him (his favorite meals). We buried each other in the sand at the beach. We played card games and board games and computer games. We watched Batman together. We teased and joked and laughed. We prayed together. We sang together.

When he was over at our house, he heard a particular worship song from Zach. “O Praise Him” – “Turn your ear to Heaven and hear the noise inside, the sound of angels, the sound of angel’s songs, and all this for a King. We could join and sing ‘All to Christ the King!’ – O praise Him, O praise Him. He is Holy. He is Holy…” Jeferson loved to have me sing it. “Sing that song – you know…” So I would, and when I reached the chorus of O praise Him, Jeferson would join in. Somehow, I feel he’s still singing it.

Friday, August 26th was his 16th birthday. I talked to him the day before and he asked me if I would take him to the “Enchanted Land” (an amusement park here in Rio.) I told him I was busy that day, and couldn’t do it. I was sorry. But Saturday was the day we had planned to spend the day together. I was supposed to go downtown and pick him up in the morning. From there we were going to go to the beach, swim, watch a movie (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), go back to my home, and then hang out and have a pizza and a pie that Jenna baked as we celebrated his birthday. That was the plan. We had it all worked out. As I walked away that Thursday night, I yelled to him “Happy Birthday! Don’t forget! I’ll see you on Saturday…” I didn’t though. That night was the last time I saw him.

He didn’t show up on Saturday. I couldn’t find him. We didn’t see him next week either. On Wednesday, Jenna was down in Lapa and she ran into Monique and Vera, Jeferson’s sisters. They had bad news. Jeferson was dead. He was killed – another victim of Rio’s senseless drug wars. He was killed because of where he was from, and who his friends were, and because he went into the wrong neighbourhood. Jeferson was from a CV-affiliated favela. He was invited to a party in an ADA-affiliated favela, along with a group of friends. They went, not realizing it was an ambush. Jeferson and four others were killed.

The funeral was the following day – Thursday. Standing there beside the coffin, the reality of Jeferson’s death fell upon me and crushed me, and I began to feel it as true. Looking at him lying there, covered in white flowers, a bruised lump on his forehead, his eyes closed, his skin cold to the touch, I wept. He wasn’t going to wake up. And I continued to mourn. I wept over lost opportunities. I wept because I missed my friend. I wept because he was alone and in pain as he died. I wept that I had not been able to save him. I wept for the pain of his sisters and his friends. I wept.

Walter Brueggemann, in his book “The Prophetic Imagination”, states that tears and mourning are acts of prophetic criticism, as they emphatically declare that all is not right with the world. Something has happened that should not have happened, and tears are our acknowledgement of that. They are the starting point from which we must travel on our search for hope. And that hope, though hidden in the most unlikely places, still remains.

Last year at our WMF staff retreat, Rachel Langley, a WMF missionary in Peru, stood up and shared a passage of Scripture she gained solace and strength from . In reading it these last couple of weeks, I too have drawn hope from the truth it conveys. Allow me to share it with you.

Rev. 7:9-17
9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

13Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore,

“They are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Rachel said, “If anyone has gone through a great tribulation, it is these children of the street.” From birth, their lives have been a tribulation. I know Jeferson was washed in the blood of the Lamb. And I cling to the rest of the promise for him… “Jeferson is before the throne of God and serves him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over Jeferson. Never again will Jeferson hunger; never again will Jeferson thirst. The sun will not beat upon him, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be his shepherd; he will lead Jeferson to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from his eyes.”

I know that one day, I will see him again. But not yet. There is still much to do…

Thank you for your prayers and your love,

Benjamin Michael

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My June Prayer Letter

Well, all three of you will probably be surprised that I’m putting up something else so soon… But I thought, what the hey. I had to get this done for today, and I thought I would share w/ you a few of the random thoughts (especially for those of you who don’t get my snail mail letters…) Sorry it’s so long… I like to call it “the beast.” Enjoy.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:4

June 2005

Dear friends and family,

You can tell winter is approaching here in Rio – the sun sets earlier (around 5:00), the rains dwindle, and the temperature cools. All in all, it’s a nice change. But in many ways I feel that a winter has been drawing near to my heart as well. This last week was especially painful – death was present in both our memories and in our day-to-day lives. Yet in the dark times, I have been clinging to the above verse. I don’t see it yet, but I trust in our God who has promised us that those who mourn will be comforted. But how long must we wait?

I spent a couple hours on Mother’s Day down in Lapa with the street kids. It was a painful time for all of us as we remembered our mothers. I heard many stories of the ways their mothers had let them down, failed them, ignored them, or abandoned them. Some still loved their mothers. Others wanted nothing to do with theirs. I wept with one friend as we remembered our moms, and were missing them especially on Mother’s Day. They died years ago, but the wounds still ache. As we sat under the arches and the tears flowed, another kid patted us reassuringly on the shoulder as he walked by and murmured “It’s hard to lose a mom, isn’t it?” And so we mourn.

That same day we found out that Thiago (one of the Lapa kids) had passed away the night before when he used too much of an inhalant called lolô, fell down on the sidewalk, hit his head, and bled to death. He was 17. We went to his funeral the next morning, and it was a sad affair. I didn’t know Thiago very well. I didn’t know his heart, so it was difficult to try and speak words of comfort to his mother, his family. Our presence, an arm to lean on, a shoulder to cry on, and a few heartfelt prayers were all we had to give. Yet though I didn’t know him well, I do trust in our Heavenly Father – in His infinite compassion and mercy, as well as His infinite justice. And we continue to mourn.

In many ways, the kids in Lapa are hardened – they have to be to survive. Yet they too mourn the loss of their friend Thiago. They too suffer, and I have been privileged to see into their hearts. They let me share their pain with them, and that is a precious, priceless gift. In the aftermath, as I reflected more on suffering, on mourning, and on the pain that exists in so many lives, I stumbled across Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff. It is a series of profound reflections on suffering and love, written after his son died in a mountain climbing accident.

One of his most moving passages focuses on the beatitude – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” His response – “Who then are the mourners? The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence.”

Those who mourn are the ones who realize that when the Kingdom of peace and wholeness comes, there will be no hunger, no sickness, no brokenness, no injustice, no fear, and no death. However, this present world is full of such things. Those who mourn see things as they are and ache – they see the hungry, the sick, the broken, people suffering injustices, people who are afraid and dying. As they see, their hearts break and they are moved to tears because these things should not be! In this way, our mourning and our weeping are acts of prophetic criticism, proclaiming not only the sad reality that exists today. Each tear also proclaims what may be, what should be, what one day will be. And the words of Jesus tell us that as we mourn, we will be held in the arms of the God who suffers with us.

Wolterstorff goes on – “The mourners are aching visionaries. Such people Jesus blesses… and he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come. They will be comforted… Jesus says: Be open to the wounds of the world. Mourn humanity’s mourning, weep over humanity’s weeping, be wounded by humanity’s wounds, be in agony over humanity’s agony. But do so in good cheer that a day of peace is coming.”

When the Kingdom of God comes in fullness, we will then see face to face. We will see Life redeemed as it was meant to be. Until that day, however, our tears are our witness. God’s children die every day. In that day, they will die no more. His daughters are used and abused. In that day, they will be cherished. His sons are crushed and thrown away. In that day, they will be honored. The poor are exploited and ruined. In that day, they will be lifted up. The image of God in His beloved children is consigned to the rubbish heap. In that day, they will be seated with the princes and princesses. Therefore we mourn, but not as those who have no hope.

I wept for my family as my mom died. I weep for Thiago, making his home on the street as he destroys his mind and body. I weep for Christian, growing up thinking it is normal to sleep outside. The street – with its noise, dirt, drugs, broken glass and broken lives – is his playground and sanctuary. I weep for Kaiwan, facing a bleak and uncertain future as violent men with guns occasionally invade his neighborhood. I weep as innocence is stolen, families are broken, hope is destroyed, and love grows cold. Faced with the cold, bleak reality of sin, injustice, and brokenness, we often feel helpless. Our hearts break. We cry, we weep, we mourn. Yet as we mourn, our tears do not lead us to despair, for our tears are mixed with faith, hope, courage, and love. “One day…” they whisper to us. Our tears are our prayer. And our Father whispers back – “In that day, I will make all things new… Come work with me. Trust me.”

So we mourn, and yet we hope. We sacrifice and sing. We labor and love. We cry and we move forward in resolve that the broken hearts and lives will one day be made whole. Not yet, but one day – one day soon… For He is able, and He is faithful. And after the last tear falls, there is Love… Amen.

Thank you for standing with me. Thank you for your love and support.

Gratefully,

Benjamin Michael

PS – One or two quick business things for those who want to keep in touch better (or want me to keep in better touch w/ them.) For those who are interested I am now sending out a regular prayer update email. Let me know if you want in the loop.

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Be careful who you love…


jeferson and isabel
Originally uploaded by Lost in Rio.

It’s late at night, and I can’t sleep, so I decided I’d make use of the time and try and write something. I’m sitting up in bed, shivering in my sweatshirt (it must be 60 degrees outside). I’m listening to a song by Waterdeep called “Foolish Love.” It’s beautiful. It’s probably one of my favorite songs at the moment.

At the moment it moves me because that has been much of my prayer for the last two years. “Father, increase my love. Father, help me to love more. Father, grow my love for the poor and broken and oppressed. Father, plant in me Your love, that I might love others w/ Your Agape…”  Sometimes it really sucks when God answers your prayers. Love opens up your heart and makes you so vulnerable.

I look back and realize that much of my life I have avoided love, or at least avoided the dangers of “loving too much.” When you love too much, you give people power over you. You allow them into your life, and you give them the power to hurt you. And people will hurt you. We are all imperfect, messy, broken children who on occasion are selfish, self-centered, proud, and inconsiderate. I love my family, but they have hurt me. I have hurt them. And in trying to protect myself, I slowly hardened my heart. You allow people in, but only to a certain point. Beyond that point, no one is allowed. Thanks for stopping by, but Keep off the Grass and Beware of Dog.

This worked out just fine until I came down to Rio, when it became my job to love the outcasts. And you can’t love someone unless you let them into your heart. Jeferson was the first to sneak in. Rafael came over the walls soon after. Isabel managed it. Then Hugo, Junior, Christiane, and Maria Elena, Raiane and Renato and Julia and Igor, and sometimes it feels like my heart will explode. It aches beautifully.

I prayed to love more, but I didn’t pray that I would make myself vulnerable and easily hurt… It hurts when the people you love are cold at night. It hurts to see the ones you love destroying themselves. A few weeks ago I sat w/ Jeferson on the cold sidewalk until late in the night w/ my arm around his shoulder and prayed for him and sang over him as he wept. But eventually, it was time for me to go. I had to get up and leave him there. As I walked away, I was the one whose shoulders were racked w/ sobs. My tears were my prayer.

There’s a Waterdeep song called “Foolish Love” – about how love doesn’t make sense – the chorus goes like this. “I’ve got some kind of foolish love, running through my veins. Standing in this foolish love, soaking wet in the pouring rain.” I’ve been there. This love that makes no sense, as I stand in the praça of Lapa, the cold rain on my face and in my heart. And then I think that I have a small taste of our Father’s heart for the youth of Lapa, and for each of us – the broken children of His dreams. And I want to weep and dance and sing and sob. But I don’t. Instead, I usually just go over and give out a few hugs and handshakes, play some dominoes, break out the first aid kit, give some hot chocolate and love and a prayer and a smile and a listening ear. And it doesn’t solve anything yet, but somehow, for now, it is enough.

Waterdeep goes on to say in their song –

“Reason will come to you in your darkest hour and ask you if you really suppose if all this foolishness makes any sense at all. You tell him Love has reasons that reason will never know – and stand there in your foolish love running through your veins just stand there in your foolish love soaking wet in the pouring rain.

“I imagine sometimes Jesus is a lot like me, when the woman he loves says she thinks she loves him too. He just gets real quiet and looks down at the ground, because until she says she’s ready there’s nothin’ much He can do – except stand there in His foolish love flowing out His veins. He’s got some kind of foolish love, soaking wet in the pouring rain.”

May we love those in our lives w/ His foolish love – That love which makes no sense, and only sees the beloved. May we love our Abba w/ His foolish love, as He first loved us.

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